Our historic (school)house: when truth is stranger than fiction

When talking about mystery novels with The Dear Man a few years ago, I commented that one of the tropes is that detectives in books often live in really cool, unconventional houses.

Think Kinsey Millhone in that rockin’ garage apartment that feels like the inside of a boat.

Or Travis McGee, who actually lives on a houseboat.

Or Magnum, P.I. (OK, that’s 80s TV, but stay with me), who lives in the guest house of that grand estate in Hawaii.

Or my favorite literary abode: Scot Harvath’s home in an 18th century stone (former) church and rectory owned by the U.S. Navy. Who wouldn’t want to live there?

Detectives even get amazing office spaces: Walt Longmire has an office in an old Carnegie library, and Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro run their business from an old church belfry.*

It was one of those things that I thought only happened in books.

Until it happened to us.

We bought an old schoolhouse.

Actually, we bought half of it. There’s an 18-inch-thick brick wall that runs right down the center of the place, and we’ve bought the side we loved best.

The school was built in 1906—and while it’s been remodeled, it still has serious old-building character—and we get to live in it!

I love love love old houses. All my life (except during college, library school, and the first year after) I’ve lived in old houses, and I love their charm and their quirks and their history. Ever since childhood, I’ve adored sitting in my old house and thinking about the former residents reading the newspaper and finding out about the sinking of the Titanic. Or women winning the right to vote. Or the end of a war.

It makes me feel connected.

With this place, it’s an even twistier path to the past, because we’re envisioning students and teachers and the principal, living out their school days here. The other night, we were talking about “duck and cover” during the Cold War and I said, “Oh my gosh. They did that right here.”

So when it comes to listing my favorite things about this house, I get stuck. There’s the history, there’s the delight of living in a school, and there’re those brick walls, and the floating staircase, and the 8-foot tall windows, and the original doors and transoms…

We’re flat-out in love with this place. Sometimes we just sit and gaze at it. Often we don’t want to leave.

What’ll actually launch us out of the house: We’ve made an appointment at the local historical museum, where we’re gonna dig into our schoolhouse’s history. We’re hoping to find photos.

In the meantime, we’ve got a little chalkboard that says Comfort and here we are… reading and cooking and watching the cat and decoding the secrets of our schoolhouse and talking about all the things…

It’s no mystery where you’ll find us.

So tell me…. Has there ever been a point in your life when you’ve said, “I thought this only happened in books…”

*authors:

Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone series)

John D. MacDonald (Travis McGee series)

Brad Thor (Scot Harvath series)

Craig Johnson (Walt Longmire series)

Dennis Lehane (Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro series)

Mysteries I can’t wait to be published

Anyone else look at their library hold list just for thrills and anticipation? So do I. And right now I have such good stuff on the horizon, I hardly know what to do with myself.

Currently, my hold list is filled with pre-pub mysteries, and I feel like a kid again, waiting for the next library visit so I can stock up on Nancy Drews.

Here’s the grown-up version…

 

 

Depth of Winter by Craig Johnson

I love Craig Johnson, and we all know it. Every June for years, I’d have a super happy moment when his latest book was released and my hold came in at the library. This year, he’s got a September 4 publication date, and that means my June is gonna feel a little bereft. But… I’m skilled at anticipation, so things are gonna work out just fine.

 

Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King

It’s another Mary Russell mystery, and there are few things more delightful than that. Especially since June 12 is its pub date, so June is rescued after all!

 

The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

Horowitz has been hitting the mystery scene hard these last few years, with the magnificent Magpie Murders and his Sherlock Holmes novels, Moriarty and House of Silk. Now he’s beginning a new series with The Word Is Murder, which drops August 24.

 

The three of them are enough to keep me flapping in anticipation all season.

 

So, my fellow readers… What pre-pub books are you looking forward to?

 

Magpie Murders: rather a perfect mystery

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

3 words: character-driven, absorbing, metafiction

Sometimes you come across a book that’s a perfectly perfect example of its genre.

This is one of them.

If you like classic mysteries, but also like a modern take on a classic… this book is gonna make you very happy.

There’re all kinds of good things going on here.

First: a book within a book. And I kid you not: I got so absorbed in the book-within-the-book that I totally forgot it was part of a larger narrative.

Then the other story line came in, I had a moment of, “Oh, yeah!” followed by a moment of disruption, and then man did I fall into the wider story.

The story-within-the-story is a classic whodunit written by a fictitious author. It’s told in the third person, and it’s a completely engaging story of a 1950s murder in an English village that’s filled with all kinds of believable characters. There’s a larger-than-life famous detective on the case. Very Agatha Christie.

The wider story is also a classic whodunit, but told in the first person, by the current-day editor of the fictitious author. The fictitious author, who recently died a possibly suspicious death. She’s an unlikely detective, but as a mystery aficionada, she’s picked up some skills. And she brings us along for the journey.

It’s suspenseful, it’s literary, there’s a plot that’ll keep you turning the pages, and there are characters to care about.

Perfection, I’m telling you.

Brought to us by the guy who brought us Foyle’s War on the BBC, as well as the excellent Alex Rider spy fiction series for tweens (which I read along with my nephew, and which I liked way more than I expected).

I’m impressed.

Give this book a whirl if you like… classic whodunits, books about authors and book publishing, books within books, British mysteries, Louise Penny

What’s the best mystery you’ve read this summer?

Fireplace + coffee + mystery = Happy Unruly

Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King

 

You know how I wrote about how the Mary Russell / Sherlock Holmes series was raging on at full force?

 

Still happening!

Only more so.

 

I had some of the happiest reading moments while playing hooky from my assigned reading and diving into this book instead. I’m telling you: bliss.

 

Here’s why:

 

– Shipboard setting. Man, I’m a sucker for a book set on the high seas. And this book starts with Mary and Holmes studying Japanese onboard a ship, tutored by a
young Japanese woman who turns out to have some serious secrets. The picture of them, toiling side by side to learn a challenging language, is really rather
charming.

 

– Japanese setting. King brings Japan and its culture to life, so it’s like being there without the discomforts of travel.

 

– King’s writing style. I’m telling you, it’s such a doggone comfort to relax in the care of a skilled writer who does all the work so you don’t have to. I just read and luxuriated in her smoothly constructed sentences and nearly purred.

 

– The delightful blend of zippy action and the mundane pleasures of daily life. Here’s a scene from onboard the ship:

“The damp pages turned. For two hours, absolutely nothing happened: no shots rang out, no tusked boars rampaged down the decks, no flimsy aeroplanes beckoned. Normal life can be extraordinarily restful.” (p. 22)

 

(I’m purring again.)

 

This book felt pretty much perfect to me. It might be a happy enough reading memory to tide me over until the next installment.

 

Maybe.

 

Christmas in October

Wait for Signs by Craig Johnson

3 words: warm, manly, decent

Christmas
came early this year. In two ways.
First,
this book is made up of short stories, thereby fulfilling my Book Bingo
requirement and getting me unstuck.
Second,
most of the stories take place around Christmastime. 
Normally, this would make
me puke, but we’re talking Craig Johnson here, so puking is out of the
question. He keeps it too wry and too real for me to be having an attack of
“way too heartwarming” seasonal nausea.*
Though, I
gotta say: some of these stories (one of them especially—“Slick-Tongued Devil”**)
prompted some emotions. Johnson’s getting a pass, because when he writes stories
that make a person feel sad or grateful or nostalgic, he never cheapens any of
the emotions and he keeps it all free of smarm. (I can’t stand smarm.)
The beauty
of these stories is that they fill in some of the gaps between the novels in
the Walt Longmire mystery series. They’re vignettes that show us some everyday
occurrences and also some turning points in Walt’s life. And they illustrate the
tough, kind, decent man he is. (Yes, I know I’m talking about a fictional
character as though he’s real.)
They say
that when you read short stories, you should savor every word. With Craig
Johnson’s books and stories, I do that by necessity; I don’t want to miss a
single syllable. 
Merry
Christmas, y’all.
*A third
thing that was Christmas-y: I was reading this book while on a dream vacation
with people I love.
**That
one almost made me cry.